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Fears for Lyric FM's future as RTÉ deals with unprecedented financial situation

Presenters and fans have been calling for support in the wake of a Prime Time episode last night.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

PRESENTERS ON LYRIC FM and station listeners have reacted in shock online today to new speculation that RTÉ is considering the future of the station.

On last night’s Prime Time, it emerged that the programme understands RTÉ is in talks about “cutting deeply into areas it is legally obliged to deliver” and is “considering the future of Lyric FM”. This is due to RTÉ’s ‘unprecedented’ financial situation.

The station, which is 20 years old this year, is based in Limerick. There was no RTÉ spokesperson available for last night’s Prime Time episode and the station did not confirm that it is considering Lyric FM’s future.

However, due to Prime Time’s statement presenters on the station reacted in shock today to the news. 

Liz Nolan, who presents The Full Score on Lyric, tweeted today calling for a show of support for the station on social media:

She described the Prime Time news as “a profound blow” to public service broadcasting. 

In response to Nolan’s tweet there was an outpouring of support from fans of the station. 

RTÉ, which has 1,800 employees, produces much of its own content – but it emerged last weekend that it is experiencing unprecedented financial difficulties. 

In a letter to staff, RTÉ Director General Dee Forbes said that although the decision by the Government to tender for TV licence collection services was welcome, the decision to defer implementation of a revised media charge system “means that the crisis in the funding of public service media will continue”.

“And with reform now pushed out further, RTÉ’s capacity to deliver against its existing remit is severely compromised,” Forbes added in the letter. 

She told staff that “it will no longer be possible to continue as we are” due to the fact that commercial revenues and public funding are both “significantly below” what is needed to operate RTÉ in its current form.

The RTÉ Executive and the RTÉ Board have been assessing everything the broadcaster does and what it can continue to do into the future, Forbes said. 

Prime Time said it understands that RTÉ is also looking at the future of a wide range of other services which could be cut. 

On the agenda is cutting the salaries of the biggest stars at RTÉ, with the RTÉ trade union suggesting a pay ceiling of €250k for each star, said Prime Time. 

On last night’s Prime Time was Minister Pat Rabbitte, who said that “RTÉ has been making hard choices for some considerable time”.

It now receives €100m less in revenue than it received in 2008 at the time of the Celtic Tiger crash. 

“It’s not a trivial issue of whether RTÉ can sell off more land, whether it can close Lyric,” said Rabbitte.” I mean, that would be an outrage, frankly, and as Cillian Fennell [of Stillwater Communications, also on Prime Time] said, is not going to provide a solution in the complex world we live in today.”

RTÉ Lyric FM attracts 273,000 listeners on a weekly basis, while RTÉ 2FM reaches 839k of adults aged 15+ and RTÉ Radio 1 has a weekly reach of over 1.3million. Aodán O Dubhghaill, head of RTÉ Lyric FM, said that the recent JNLR figures “[confirm] the place that quality classical music has for audiences on the island of Ireland. As we celebrate 20 years on air, we at RTÉ lyric fm are honoured to be the broadcast custodians of that important music tradition.”

TheJournal.ie asked RTÉ if it could comment on the speculation over Lyric FM’s future.

In a statement, it said:

RTÉ remains committed to meeting the ever-changing needs of Irish audiences and to securing the future of public service media in Irish life. We are mindful of RTÉ’s central role in reflecting who we are as a people and a nation and where we are going, a role that is more important now than ever. However, with commercial revenues and public funding both significantly below what is needed to operate the organisation in its current form, it is no longer possible to continue as we are.
It is in this context that we are currently finalising a review of everything we currently do and what we can continue to do in the future and we expect to be in a position to share details in the coming weeks.

In a statement this evening, RTÉ’s Trade Union Group (TUG), which represents staff throughout RTÉ, said it has had no negotiations with management on any proposals.

“The TUG has received no information on measures being considered by the Director General and the Executive Board of RTÉ,” it said in a statement.

It added: “The TUG is firmly committed to the protection of employment, including in RTÉ Lyric fm, and Public Service Broadcasting.

“The TUG, constituent unions and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions will continue to demand support from Government for the protection of Public Service Broadcasting in Ireland.”

- With reporting from Cónal Thomas

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